Government

Village Mayor Margot Garant said residents of Port Jefferson Village would get “whacked” by the elimination of the SALT deduction in the federal tax reform bill. File photo by Alex Petroski

Governmental leaders from virtually all levels in New York have come out in opposition to the federal tax reform bill, and now the Port Jefferson Village board can be added to the list.

The village passed a resolution at its Nov. 20 board meeting “expressing its strong opposition to any federal tax reform legislation that would eliminate or limit access to the state and local tax deduction.” The SALT deduction, which was enacted about 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid “double taxation.” The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle class families.

“We’re going to get whacked,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said of the bill during the board meeting.

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the SALT deduction returned between $1,301 and $1,953 for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the tax year of 2015, the latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes.

“New York residents already send $41 billion more to the federal treasury than the federal government returns to New York,” the village resolution reads. “The state and local tax deduction is a fundamental principle of federalism and without it our residents would be faced with double taxation, as they would be forced to pay federal income taxes on the taxes they must pay to state and local governments.”

Garant joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), and U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) in opposing the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it.

“I view the elimination of the SALT deduction as a geographic redistribution of wealth, picking winners and losers,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The proposal taxes additional funds from a state like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere. For anyone who incorrectly argues that the rest of the country subsidizes our state, I would point out that New York is a net contributor to the federal coffers with regards to both tax policy and spending policy and that is even with the SALT deduction.”

According to www.censusreporter.org, about 62 percent of Port Jefferson Village residents earn between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual salary.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill shortly after Thanksgiving.

Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering, presents Gyrodyne’s plans for the St. James Flowerfield property to Smithtown Planning Board Nov. 15. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gyrodyne LLC has admitted its own  traffic study proves that St. James and Stony Brook residents have good reason to be concerned about the traffic impact of their proposed project.

Gyrodyne made a formal presentation of its future plans for the nearly 75-acre property Nov. 15 to the Smithtown Planning Board and a standing-room only crowd. The developer has proposed to subdivide the Flowerfield land in order to build a 220-unit assisted living facility, a 130,000-square foot medical office building and a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, conference space and day spa/fitness center.

“We are not looking to maximize yield here,” Richard Smith, director of Gyrodyne and a St. James resident, said. “We are looking to strike the right balance between economic development, which I think we all know the St. James community desperately needs, and to preserve and enhance the environment we all love.”

Nearly 100 residents and Brookhaven elected officials packed the meeting to make clear their opposition to the project’s traffic impact on Route 25A, Mills Pond Road and Stony Brook Road.

“Town of Brookhaven is opposed to any traffic created as a result of this proposed subdivision emptying out onto town roads and, specifically, Stony Brook Road,” said Brenda Prusinowski, deputy commissioner of planning and environment for Brookhaven Town, reading a statement for Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “This road is overcrowded now, particularly because of usage from the university, and does not need additional traffic from a project outside our town.”

“If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.

— Laurie Kassay

Jennifer Martin, aide for Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station), echoed the supervisor’s sentiment and made clear the town is “staunchly opposed to any additional traffic” on Route 25A as well.

Mills Pond Road homeowner Laurie Kassay said she opposed the project despite promises from Gyrodyne it will create an estimated 900 new jobs and generate $90 million annually for the economy.

“The area cannot handle any more traffic,” Kassay said. “If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.”

The developer hired Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates who performed a traffic study focusing on 16 intersections off Mills Pond Road, Moriches Road, Route 25A and Stony Brook Road surrounding the property. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017, but have yet to be reviewed.

“The concern of the traffic impact is completely understood,” said Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering. “The traffic impact study has confirmed why the concern is valid. A number of the 16 intersections studied today have poor or failing conditions.”

If Gyrodyne’s plans go forward, McAndrew said the firm has proposed traffic improvements be made at six intersections. The intersection of Route 25A and Mills Pond Road should have traffic signals installed, according to the traffic study, which also suggested NYS DOT design a roundabout at the intersection of Route 25A and Stony Brook Road in addition to traffic mitigation measures at four additional intersections on Stony Brook Road.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was outraged at the suggestion of a roundabout being installed on the historic Route 25A corridor in front of the William Sidney Mount House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. He urged the planning board to reject Gyrodyne’s plans, stating that in his opinion as a scientist,  it’s not environmentally sustainable and instead encouraged Smithtown town officials to work with Brookhaven in future development of the region.

“Our communities have a long history of cooperation,” Englebright said. “I hope we don’t have to set up canons on the border. There are some really upset people on Stony Brook Road.”

Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Smithtown Animal Shelter faces public criticism of its kennel conditions. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Town of Smithtown’s decision to shut down the Smithtown Animal Shelter’s Facebook page is the latest controversy to bombard the already problem-plagued center.

Smithtown resident John Urbancik openly criticized town councilmembers’ decision to take down the shelter’s Facebook page earlier this month at the Nov. 7 town board meeting.

“Before you took down the page, you weren’t promoting the animals,” Urbancik said at the board meeting. “Put it back up and promote the animals. If you want the animals out of there, you need to promote them.”

Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said the site has been temporarily taken offline alleging that public commenters harassed and cyberbullied town employes by claiming they had failed to provide adequate care for the shelter’s animals.

Shelter dog Dinah was recently adopted. Photo from George Speakman

“It was destroying the self-esteem of the staff who work there every day,” she said. “It’s been shattered with this negativity. It’s hurting our adoption success. It’s hurting the animals. It’s a few people who start these rumors that go all over about the shelter, but they aren’t thinking about the animals.”

Over the last two years, the Smithtown Animal Shelter has been plagued by a series of problems. Former director James Beatty resigned in May 2015, after more than 30 years running the shelter, following months of accusations by Smithtown residents of his animal neglect and cruelty. He was replaced by Rocky Point resident Sue Hansen, who was fired by the town in July 2017 on charges of incompetence and mismanagement which led to a deterioration of the animals’ living conditions.

Urbancik said in a telephone interview with TBR News Media Nov. 10 that the shutdown of the shelter’s Facebook page wasn’t over harassment or bullying, but rather a calculated effort to silence public outcry. He claimed the shelter’s dogs are being neglected, citing they are being left locked inside unclean kennels.

Urbancik has started several Facebook pages of his own to draw attention to his problems with operation of the shelter including “Smithtown Animal Shelter needs a director” with more than 700 followers and “Remove Public Safety from Smithtown Animal Shelter” with more than 70 followers as of time of this publication.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter Facebook page comments, Urbancik’s social media posts, along with others made by animal activists concerned over conditions at the Smithtown shelter, caught the attention of New Jersey resident George Speakman.

The self-professed dog lover traveled more than two and a half hours Nov. 12 after hearing rumors the shelters’ vet was operating without anesthesia and all dogs in the shelter would be euthanized by December.

“I saw the Facebook page before it went down; it was one of the main reasons I decided to travel up to New York to take a look — I wanted to see for myself,” Speakman said. “If it was the way it was described on Facebook, I would have sat outside that shelter and protested.”

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals.”

— George Speakman 

Upon arriving, he said he met with the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Susan Zollo, and a kennel attendant.

“I told them about the stories I had heard, and for my own peace of mind, asked if I can look around and see the shelter,” he said. “She was more than happy to accommodate me.”

Speakman said he toured the facility and took a video recording of the kennels and dog park before deciding to adopt Dinah, a female bull terrier and corgi mix who has been a long-term resident of the shelter.

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals,” he said, saying he would highly recommend local residents visit themselves. “They bend over backwards for them.”

Smithtown resident Vicki Feuerstein, a volunteer of the shelter since it was under Beatty’s leadership, said there have been positive changes in recent months at the shelter with proactive leadership and the remaining staff responsible and dedicated to their jobs.

“You have the backbone to make it a really good shelter,” she said.

Feuerstein admitted there is still room for improvement as dogs are spending too much time in their kennels, largely due to a shortage of kennel staff.

“I would love to see more kennel staff, that really affects the life of the dogs,” she said. “ Also, an animal behaviorist.”

Councilwoman Inzerillo admitted the town only has two full-time employees at the shelter, after recent efforts to clean house of troublesome employees. She said there have been conversations with supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) about hiring two additional kennel staff members once he takes office. In addition, Inzerillo said the town has started extensive renovations to improve the dated shelter.

“We are focusing on moving forward,” she said. “We can’t focus on the negativity. I encourage residents to go and visit the place.”

Councilman Eugene Cook has a proposal that would set term limits for all Huntington elected officials. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington council members will reopen the issue of setting term limits for elected officials by putting it before residents next month.

The town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing Dec. 13 on term limits for all elected officials in the town.

Councilman Eugene Cook (R) presented a revised resolution that proposed that individuals elected to the offices of town supervisor, town council, town clerk, receiver of taxes and superintendent of highways be limited to three consecutive terms, for a total of 12 years, in the same office.

“Since I’ve been elected, I wanted to put term limits in and I didn’t have any support for it,” Cook said. “I spoke to the new [elected officials] coming in, and they asked me if three terms was alright.”

Cook previously made an effort to bring up term limits in August, which was defeated. This revised resolution differs from his August proposal, which suggested setting the limit at two consecutive terms, or a limit of 8 years in office.

The August proposal failed to move forward after Cook and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) tried to amend it so that the nonlegislative positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes would not be term limited. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) voted against the amendment because they said they believe term limits should apply to all elected officials equally.

“I believe what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Cuthbertson said after the Nov. 10 board meeting.

Petrone, who is preparing to leave office after serving for nearly 24 years, and Cuthbertson (D), who was re-elected Nov. 7 to his sixth term having already served for 20 years, have both agreed to move forward with a public hearing Dec. 13.

The supervisor admitted while he was not initially in favor of implementing term limits, he’s had a change of heart.

“Term limits bring movement, people can move to other places,” Petrone said. “People in the town can move, like Susan [Berland] did, to the county when there are vacancies and there’s only a vacancy in the county because there’s a term limit.”

Berland, who first took political office as a Huntington board member in 2001, ran a successful campaign to be elected the next representative of Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District Nov. 7, taking over for Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Stern could not run for re-election due to being term limited.

Similar to Cook’s revised resolution, Suffolk County legislators are limited to serving 12 years in office.

Cuthbertson said he agreed to have the public hearing and will listen to what residents have to say on the issue Dec. 13 before making a decision.

The Nov. 9 motion to move forward with implementing term limits comes only two days after state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected to be the town’s next supervisor and his running mate, Republican Ed Smyth, won a seat on the town board. Both Lupinacci and Smyth’s campaign promises focused on government and ethics reform, including support for term limits for town officials. Lupinacci and Smyth take office in January 2018.

“While we appreciate the town board’s enthusiasm about term limits, we may better serve the public by passing a comprehensive ethics reform package beginning next term, which includes term limits for policy makers, among other initiatives which make government more transparent, accountable and efficient for the people of Huntington,” Lupinacci said in a statement.

The town board has the option of voting on Cook’s resolution at their Dec. 13 meeting, immediately placing term limits on those newly elected.

Cook said if his measure is not approved in December, he will continue to push for reform.

“If it doesn’t go through, I’ll put it up again in January,” Cook said. “It’s good for the people of Huntington, that’s for sure.”

Huntington town officials will hold a public hearing on the future of Grateful Paw Cat Shelter Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. File photo

Huntington town officials are weighing the pros and cons of a change of leadership at Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, but some volunteers fear their minds are already made up.

The town board voted 4-1 to schedule a public hearing on Little Shelter Animal Rescue taking over operation of the town-owned cat shelter for Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Little Shelter was one of two organizations who responded to the Oct. 3 town’s request for proposals (RFP) by those looking to operate the shelter. The RFP is for a five-year contract to operate the cat shelter starting January 2018, undertaking the responsibilities of taking in and caring for any stray and displaced cats; emergency pickup of stray cats in the town; operating a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats; and facilitating cat adoptions by residents.

David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter, believes his nonprofit’s experience as an independent no-kill shelter makes the company qualified for the job.

“We handle a lot of the emergencies, particularly the cat emergencies in Huntington already,” he said. “We think that facility has so much more potential. We would like to maximize the potential that facility has and represent the Town of Huntington.”

While Little Shelter has never had a formal business agreement with the town, according to Ceely, the nonprofit has informally worked to pull dogs from its town shelter to alleviate overcrowding and help prevent euthanasia due to lack of space.

The other application was submitted Nov. 3 by League of Animal Protection of Huntington, according to its president Debbie Larkin, who has run the nonprofit shelter for more than 40 years.

“I’d like to hope every council member and the departing supervisor had the chance to read through the proposals carefully,” Larkin said. “I hope that this response to the RFP was not an exercise in futility for us and their minds were already made up.”

The two responses were reviewed by a five-person panel comprised of representatives from the town attorney’s office and Department of Public Safety, according to town spokesman A.J.Carter. The applications were evaluated based on criteria outlined in the RFP: proof of not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status in good standing; sufficient employees/volunteers to operate the facility; plans for emergency cat pickup; adoption applicant criteria; breakdown of medical services provided for adopted cats; and submission of the past two years of shelter records and IRS 990 tax filings showing a not-for-profit status. Based on these criteria, the panel found Little Shelter to be the “successful, responsive and responsible proposer.”

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (R) was the only board member who voted against scheduling a public hearing on Little Shelter taking control of the cat shelter come January. Edwards said she is in favor of the town signing a contract with LAP.

“We were going to award the contract before to the [League of Animal Protection],” she said. “Now that they got their 501(c)(3) status back retroactively, I think it would have only been fair to give it back to them.”

Town officials first solicited bids from any organization interested in running the cat shelter earlier this spring, after it came to light in April that the LAP had lost its not-for-profit status with the IRS in 2015 but never notified the town. Huntington Attorney Cindy Mangano said the town became aware of this breach of the contractual agreement when drawing up a new document, as the previous agreement expired in December 2016.

At the June 13 town board meeting, council members voted to give LAP an extension until Nov. 30 to regain its not-for-profit status and halting the current RFP process.

The organization’s attorney and accountant were able to get its 501(c)(3) status reinstated by the IRS within five weeks, according to Larkin, and retroactively applied to the date it was lost.

LAP’s president and several of its volunteers called on town officials to make an executive order to immediately approve the contractual agreement previously drawn up this spring at the Aug. 15 board meeting, which would extend the organization’s operation of the cat shelter.

Instead, Supervisor Frank Petrone (R) insisted the town was legally obligated to move forward with the RFP process, otherwise fearing it could run the risk of another interested party taking them into court over the matter.

Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was honored for his impact surrounding gang violence and rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala Nov. 9. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In 2006, a year after he was elected Suffolk County sheriff, Vincent DeMarco took a huge risk. In an effort to reduce gang violence in the Riverhead correctional facility, DeMarco brought a seemingly ill-fated program into the jail where rival gang leaders and members — Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Latin Kings and Aryan Brotherhood — gather in a room to share stories, make peace and help one another escape a life of crime. In doing so, Riverhead became the first county jail in the nation to embrace Council for Unity, a nonprofit founded in Brooklyn in 1975 to keep gang activities out of schools and communities and replace a culture of despair with a culture of hope. The newly-appointed sheriff’s gamble quickly paid off.

Robert DeSena, Vincent DeMarco, Alex Bryan and Butch Langhorn were recognized for their work. Photo by Kevin Redding

In a matter of months, DeMarco and correctional facility members watched the entire jail system turn around, as inmates who came to the prison as enemies began to form friendships through their similar experiences. The men, many of whom are imprisoned for violent behavior and drug dealing, find careers after they’ve served their sentences thanks to job and education opportunities offered in the program.

Inmate population and the rate of recidivism at Riverhead are now at an all-time low and the jail serves as a model for other correctional facilities statewide. The Riverhead Police Department has since developed its own companion anti-gang program with the organization.

“DeMarco has changed the dynamic in that facility and has created hope for inmates who live without hope,” said Robert DeSena, president and founder of Council For Unity, who met with DeMarco and his staff to pitch the radical concept in February 2006. “He has a tremendous social conscience and his perception of incarcerated people is atypical. He saw they had the capacity to be reclaimed and he went with it.”

DeSena and others involved in the program, including ex-gang members, honored DeMarco for his significant impact surrounding these criminals’ rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala at the Garden City Hotel Nov. 9.

“I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts. You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

— Butch Langhorn

The annual event aims to celebrate public figures on Long Island active in the reduction of gang violence in society. DeMarco, who has served as sheriff for 12 years and decided earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term, was on the short list of honorees alongside Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Council for Unity alumnus Dr. James Li.

He received a plaque referring to him as a visionary, reformer and humanitarian “for creating a climate of hope and possibility for the inmates in his charge.”

While introducing DeMarco to receive his honor, Butch Langhorn, assistant to the sheriff who oversees the Council For Unity sessions at the jail, recalled the first meeting he and DeMarco had with DeSena.

“While we were listening, I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts,’” Langhorn said. “You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

During his 2005 campaign, DeMarco advocated for more programs that aimed to work with inmates and provide opportunities to change their lives. This came in response to a New York State mandate at the time to build a new $300 million correctional facility in Suffolk as the county was pushing 1,800 to 2,000 inmates per day. He was determined to not only lower the population, but make sure the inmates were working toward a goal beyond bars.

“I thought, this is corrections and we’re supposed to correct their behavior,” DeMarco said at the podium. “The facility isn’t about warehousing people and just putting them back into the same situation they came from.”

Although he admitted being skeptical of the idea of intermingling gang members at first, fearing it would only lead to more violence, the sheriff said he left the meeting with DeSena fully on board.

Mario Bulluc, a former MS-13 gang member, went trough the Riverhead jail program and spoke during the gala. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He did this Jedi mind trick on me and I was spun around,” DeMarco said laughing. “I just kept thinking, ‘this could work, this could work.’ It was the right thing to do and we’ve come a long way. A couple people who went through the program are out now and they’re getting paychecks, they’re married. [The program] got them out of gang culture. That warms my heart and makes it all worthwhile for me. I know we’ve helped change people’s lives, so this is a big honor for me. You always seem to remember the first and last thing you did in a position and Bob was the first meeting I ever took and now there’s this. It’s a nice little cap off.”

Mario Bulluc, 22, who was an MS-13 leader when he was a student at Riverhead High School and now serves as an employee of the council, sought refuge in the program after countless close calls with death and time spent in the Riverhead jail. He now devotes his life to helping kids get out of gangs.

“Council For Unity saved my life — DeMarco and DeSena are the greatest men I’ve ever met,” said Bulluc, who joined the infamous gang when he was 14. “They try and get to the root of our problems and help us see we are the same people no matter our race, gang, or gang colors. If I can change, anybody can.”

Alex Bryant, a retired corrections officer at Riverhead and a Council For Unity advisor, said the council was put to the test in the correctional facility and has been proven to be life-changing. He pointed to DeMarco’s leadership as the reason for its success.

“I’ve been under several sheriffs in my 30-year tenure in the field,” Bryant said. “DeMarco is by far the best. He is progressive and eons ahead of most sheriffs across the state of New York.”

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to four; eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes; and would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

Last week Republicans in the House of Representatives took a major step toward fulfilling a lynchpin campaign promise that is seemingly decades old.

The House Ways and Means committee released the framework of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 2, a major piece of legislation touted by President Donald Trump (R) as a cut to income taxes for “hardworking, middle-income Americans,” though it would negatively affect New Yorkers if signed into law, according to lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.

The highlights of the bill, which would require passage by the House and Senate and the president’s signature before becoming law, include a consolidation from seven individual income tax brackets down to four; the elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes, a provision that in the past through federal tax returns gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income tax states like New York; and a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.

“I am a ‘No’ to this bill in its current form,” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in a statement. “We need to fix this state and local tax [SALT] deduction issue. Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 is progress, but not enough progress. If I’m not fighting for New Yorkers, I can’t expect anyone else from another state to do it for me.”

U.S. Rep. for the 2nd District, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), was even more critical of the bill than Zeldin.

“The goal of tax reform is to help hard-working Americans make more money so they can live the American Dream,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The American people expect us to find a bipartisan solution to tax reform that helps create good paying middle-class jobs. This plan doesn’t achieve that goal. I won’t support it.”

Other New York lawmakers from the Democratic Party voiced harsh opposition to the bill in its current form.

New York’s U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) each said via Twitter they viewed the bill as a tax break for corporations that would have a negative impact on middle-class citizens. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called the bill a “tax increase plan.”

“The tax reform plan, they call a tax cut plan,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It has a diabolical dimension, which is the elimination of the deductibility of state and local taxes … what makes it an even more gross injustice is, the state of New York contributes more to the federal government than any other state. New York contributes more to Washington than any other state. We’re the No. 1 donor state. We give $48 billion more than we get back. Why you would want to take more from New York is a gross, gross injustice.”

Duncan MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the New York State Association of Realtors said in a statement the bill would harm many New York homeowners.

“It will lessen the value of the property tax deduction and it cuts a host of other key housing-related tax incentives,” he said.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in the 1980s and dedicated to educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact, estimated the bill would result in a $1.5 trillion increase to the national deficit.

Mark Snyder of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, a Hauppauge-based personal financial planning and management firm, called the bill a “torpedo aimed at the wallets of Long Islanders” in an email. He also pointed to the elimination of the SALT deduction as clear evidence the bill would harm New Yorkers.

“As a representative from New York, I’d kick this bill to the curb,” he said when asked what he would do if he were tasked with voting on the bill.

New York voters will decide whether or not to open up the New York Constitution on Election Day. Stock image

Follow @TBRNewspapers or check #TBRVotes on Twitter for our reporters’ on-the-ground and up-to-the-minute coverage of tonight’s election results.

Proposal 1: Constitutional Convention

Yes: 13.38%            No: 86.61%

Proposal 2: Amendment on public pension forfeiture

Yes: 69.19%            No: 30.8%

Proposal 3: Amendment on use of forest preserve land

Yes: 48.63%            No: 51.36%

 

Suffolk County District Attorney

    Ray Perini (R)               Tim Sini (D)
        36.41%                        62.08%

 

Suffolk County Sheriff

 Larry Zacarese (R)      Errol Toulon Jr. (D)
         48.93%                        49.41%

 

Suffolk County Legislator
5th District:
    Kara Hahn (D)              Ed Flood (R)
       63.39%                         36.56%

 

6th District:   
    Sarah Anker (D)      Gary Pollakusky (R)
          54.93%                       45.02%

 

12th District:
Leslie Kennedy (R)        Kevin Hyms (D)
         67.4%                         32.55%
13th District:
      Rob Trotta (R)        Coleen Maher (D)
           67.62%                     32.32%
16th District:
 Susan Berland (D)      Hector Gavilla (R)
          54.93%                      45.03%
18th District:

William Spencer (D)      Dom Spada (R)
          53.12%                      45.65%

Town of Brookhaven

Supervisor

  Ed Romaine (R)        Jack Harrington (D)
        61.91%                        38.06%

 

Councilperson
1st District:

Valerie Cartright (D)   James Canale (R)
          60.3%                      39.66%
2nd District:

   Jane Bonner (C)        Mike Goodman (D)
         63.53%                       36.42%
3rd District:

  Kevin LaValle (R)       Alfred Ianacci (D)
         65.52%                       33.98%

 

Highway Superintendent

Dan Losquadro (R)     Anthony Portesy (D)
         60.32%                      39.65%

 

Town Clerk

    Donna Lent (I)         Cindy Morris (D)
          57.26%                      42.36%

Town of Huntington

Supervisor
Tracey Edwards (D)    Chad Lupinacci (R)
         43.87%                       53.85%

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards conceded to state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. “I want to wish supervisor-elect Lupinacci congratulations on a hard-fought race,” she said. “I have no regrets about not running for town board. I could not be prouder [of my party]. We ran together and ran a positive race talking about issues important to us.”

Town Board

Mark Cuthbertson (D)    Emily Rogan (D)
         25.49%                        23.91%

   Jim Leonick (R)             Ed Smyth (R)
          24.92%                        25.6%

Emily Rogan on her loss in her first political race: “Not the way we waned, but I feel so blessed and full of gratitude,” she said. “This is one election. We are not done yet.”

 

Town of Smithtown

Supervisor

  Ed Wehrheim (R)        Kristen Slevin (I)
          56.79%                       7.85%

 

     Bill Holst (D)
          35.07%

“I feel terrific,” Ed Wehrheim said of winning. “It’s been a long, long campaign because of the primary, which was a very tough one, but this is the culmination of all of it. It feels great to be here with all my supporters and family and friends — they’ve been with me the whole way. It’s a great victory for Smithtown in my opinion, a great victory for my supporters and the residents. I’m looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting to work in January.”

Town Council

 Tom McCarthy (R)      Lynne Nowick (R)
        22.45%                       24.45%

    Bob Doyle (C)           Tom Lohmann (C)
           9.63%                        9.18%

Amy Fortunato (D)    Patricia Stoddard (D)
         17.62%                      16.44%

All percentages are unofficial results as per the Suffolk County Board of Elections

Suffolk County district attorney candidate Tim Sini and sheriff candidate Larry Zacarese during recent visits to the TBR News Media office. Photos by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County District Attorney

A fresh start for DA’s office

It’s no secret that Suffolk County’s District Attorney office is in desperate need of a culture change. The allegations-turned charges against Thomas Spota (D), who held the position since 2001, have created public distrust in a position that requires it. The district attorney decides who gets charged with crimes, and a lack of confidence in the integrity of the person leading that position creates a tangled web of problems Suffolk County residents shouldn’t have to worry about.

To that end, Tim Sini (D) has dealt with a startlingly analogous situation as police commissioner, which ironically features many of the same players, and he’s handled it as well as anyone could have asked. Real progress is being made on the gang front, and we think his experience in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, coupled with his time as police commissioner are more than enough to put to bed concerns from people like his challenger about his age and relative inexperience.

On Ray Perini (R), we were mostly satisfied with his defenses of two scandals from his past brought to light during this campaign. However, at a time like this, the mere hint of possible wrongdoing in the position of district attorney is enough to continue damaging public perception of a position in need of a fresh start.

With all that being said, we’re endorsing Sini for Suffolk County district attorney.

Suffolk County Sheriff

A new sheriff in the county

With two new candidates boasting impressive work backgrounds running for Suffolk County sheriff, Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon, it was difficult deciding who to endorse. After much deliberation Zacarese gets our endorsement.

We believe Zacarese has done his homework when it comes to the job as sheriff and his experience at Stony Brook University as assistant chief of police and director of the Office of Emergency Management will be an asset. His position there is a well-rounded one. He is involved in operations, planning, mitigation, response and recovery and working with the installation of and maintenance of the electronic security system for more than 250 buildings.

He has also met with those on task forces dealing with the gang problems on Long Island to ensure that they are well staffed and good relationships between federal and local agencies are intact.

We hope that Toulon will continue to pursue a career in politics. With a great deal of experience in law enforcement including at Rikers Island, we can see him serving the county in the future, perhaps in a role such as police commissioner.

Suffolk County Legislator District 5

Hahn handles county business

Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has the experience to take care of business in the 5th Legislative District of Suffolk County, and we endorse her in her run for a fourth term as a county legislator.

Approachable and accessible, Hahn listens to the needs of her constituents.

The chairwoman of both the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee and Parks & Recreation Committee, she supports the county’s program to update septic systems, which will reduce nitrogen in our waters. In the past she has sponsored initiatives authorizing appraisal of lands under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program.

She has been a steward for our local parks by tackling illegal dumping by increasing county penalties and creating programs for children to explore local public lands with her Parks Passport program.

We were impressed with her challenger Republican Edward Flood, and we hope he will continue to pursue a political career. A lawyer who is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), we believe Flood has the potential to serve in office, and as a supporter of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip, he has good ideas when it comes to bringing in more tax revenues while creating minimal disruption to residents.

Suffolk County Legislator District 6

Safe in Sarah Anker’s hands

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is focused on local issues.

Although legislative issues may reach further than that of the town, we appreciate the incumbent’s care and concern for her district’s constituents and the challenges they face, not just the ones that the county does.

We think she works diligently and closely with her constituents, making her the best candidate in this race. We commend her track record on issues like parks creation; protecting drinking water by prohibiting the acceptance of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing; and her work with Father Frank Pizzarelli and Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson to try to quell opioid addiction.

Some of the points her Democratic opponent Gary Pollakusky made about the county’s lower bond rating, $2.1 billion debt and $200 million structural deficit are all causes for concern, but Anker is just one member of a larger group, and should not be held accountable for all of its ills or credited with all of its successes.

Pollakusky’s campaign style tends to be rough, even bullying. We are also concerned about the merits of his business ventures and nonprofit organization based on the odd mechanics of the website and social media.

Anker has shown leadership, being able to see the problem, recognizing who can solve the problem, getting in touch with the right people, putting them all together in a room and stepping back and letting the solution evolve. She listens to people and sees if she can help. We’re all for that.

Suffolk County Legislator District 12

Kennedy should keep at it

As her first full term in the Suffolk County Legislature comes to a close, we feel that Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) has proven to be a passionate, effective and caring leader for the 12th District.

Kennedy, a longtime nurse, is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her colleagues from both  sides of the aisle, whether it’s regarding hikes in county fees or public safety projects, and seems to have the residents’ needs in mind with every decision she makes. It’s very clear she is rattled by the county’s current financial situation and is doing everything in her power to make sure families and constituents have the opportunity to grow and thrive. She has also done plenty of research on a wide variety of issues not only in her district but Suffolk County as a whole, and seeks to find a pragmatic solution to every one of them.

Suffolk County Legislator District 13

Trotta tackles Suffolk’s issues

It’s important, and rare, in politics to have a watchdog in the ranks —  a whistle-blower who’s not afraid to call out colleagues and issues for the greater good. And there’s perhaps nobody on the local level with a louder bark than Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Trotta, a former county police officer, has for the last four years consistently fought in favor of making Suffolk County an easier and cheaper place to live for residents of all ages even at the expense of making enemies. He’s become the face of exposing corruption in the county, whether it’s egregious hikes in fees or the connection between campaign contributors and elected officials. He’s also on the front line of the debate against the Suffolk County Red Light Safety Program, which has been proven to increase accidents at busy intersections and seems to serve no other purpose than to collect more fees from residents.

His Democratic opponent Colleen Maher doesn’t appear to show any interest in campaigning and, as far as we know, is just a name to put on the ballot.

Trotta is brutally honest, a statistics and facts-based whiz and the very definition of a realist. He tells it like it is and actually backs up his accusations with ways to fix the problems.

As cynical as he is about the way the county runs, it’s apparent that Trotta still very much cares about the region and is rooting for it to turn around, especially for the sake of young people. He wants them to have an opportunity to grow and thrive here. And,  with him serving more terms as legislator, there’s a chance they will one day.

Suffolk County Legislator District 16

Bring Berland to the county

When it comes to Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District, we believe that Democratic hopeful Susan Berland has the experience and community knowledge needed fill the seat of termed-out Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

Berland has shown her devotion to the Town of Huntington’s residents by working full time as a councilwoman for the last 16 years, despite it being only a part-time position. She demonstrates a fine-tuned understanding of the taxpayers needs on multiple issues: sticking to a tight budget while maintaining town services and supporting affordable housing projects while promising to fight for preservation of open space.

Her prior work experience as a state assistant attorney general will give her insight into tackling the area’s challenges of combating gang violence and drug addiction. Public safety remains another big task.

While we applaud the efforts of Republican candidate Hector Gavilla in his first run for political office, he needs to gain a better grasp of a county legislator’s role and how national issues translate the local level first. It’s difficult to understand his position on some issues. Gavilla said he was strongly in favor of cutting back on Suffolk police officers’ salaries while simultaneously stating that the government should spare no expense in protecting the public’s safety, also noting that he would increase police patrols.

The next individual elected to the county legislature will need a nuanced, detailed understanding of budgets, contracts and smart growth, and we think Berland fits the bill.

Suffolk County Legislator District 18

Doc Spencer can fix Suffolk

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) has served admirably in his role representing the northern portion of Huntington township in the county’s 18th Legislative District for the last six years.

Spencer’s background as a licensed physician has given him the insight and experience to successfully tackle several serious health issues. Spencer’s résumé includes raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21; banning the marketing of energy drinks to youth; prohibiting the sale of powdered caffeine to minors and more. In our conversation with him, Spencer demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the different challenges the county faces in addressing the opioid and heroin problem.

While his Republican challenger Dom Spada raises legitimate concerns regarding Suffolk County’s fiscal situation, it is a crisis that every elected official is aware of and has spoken about at length. No one is arguing against cutting costs, but the bigger challenge is reaching a consensus on where to make cutbacks and trim programs.

We believe that Spencer is an overall stronger candidate to address the county’s pressing health needs and build the consensus in the Legislature needed to fix the county’s budget woes.

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